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Deceit Of A Pagan

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«Deceit Of A Pagan» - Кэрол Мортимер

Carole Mortimer is one of Mills & Boon’s best loved Modern Romance authors. With nearly 200 books published and a career spanning 35 years, Mills & Boon are thrilled to present her complete works available to download for the very first time! Rediscover old favourites – and find new ones! – in this fabulous collection…A marriage for baby’s sake…After her sister died, Templar gave up her successful modelling career to take care of her new born baby niece. Now she needs financial help and, as baby Keri has lost both parents, her only surviving paternal relative is her uncle, Greek millionaire, Leon Marcose.Leon is determined to raise the child as his own and give her a proper family…including a mother! It may be a marriage of convenience, but for Keri’s sake Templar agrees to be Leon’s wife…in every sense of the word!
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Deceit of a Pagan Carole Mortimer

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TEMPLAR smiled down tenderly at the tiny infant she had just cradled to sleep, brushing back the fiery curls so like her own auburn tresses. Keri was the most important thing in her life, and for her she would gladly do anything. And if prices continued to rise as they were doing it could just come to that.

She sat down tiredly in the worn leather armchair, her bearing one of dejection and defeat. She just couldn’t manage any more. Keri was growing up all the time, and besides the food factor, she was getting too much of a handful for the elderly Mrs Ellis to look after. While she had still been a baby it hadn’t been so bad, but now that she was starting to crawl about her little fingers were into everything.

Templar buried her face in her hands, the tears of frustration and defeat coursing unheeded down her pale cheeks. What could she do? Oh, what could she do! If only Tiffany hadn’t died giving birth to Keri, they could perhaps have sought help from the baby’s father. But she had died. And Templar didn’t know who Keri’s father was. If only she hadn’t been working abroad two years ago, none of this would have happened, and perhaps Tiffany would still be alive. If only, if only, if only! How many times had she said the same things over and over to herself in the last year? And where did it get her? Nowhere!

She wouldn’t give Keri up, no matter what happened. She would rather starve first. She looked up quickly as a loud knock sounded on the door, glancing apprehensively at Keri as she began to stir. It had taken her a long time to get the baby to sleep, and if whoever it was at the door woke her up, she would give them a piece of her mind.

She got wearily to her feet, intending to open the door before her visitor repeated the loud knocking. Keri whimpered as she walked past and she lingered to give her a word of assurance. As if aware that her aunt didn’t want her to wake, the baby opened her green eyes, her tiny face creasing into tearful lines.

‘It’s all right, darling,’ Templar crooned softly, glaring resentfully at the door as the knocking resumed and the petulant voice of her landlady shouted through the rickety door.

‘I know you’re in there, Miss Newman!’ A harsh laugh accompanied this statement. ‘Where else would you be?’ she mumbled to herself, but loud enough for Templar to hear and be angered by it.

Templar opened the door angrily, standing in the doorway and effectively stopping the other woman entering as she attempted to walk in uninvited. A woman in her fifties, Mrs Marks was nothing if not curious. Templar was far too polite to call her nosy, but in truth that was actually what she was. Templar had had to put up with her unmistakable innuendoes about Keri’s parentage when she had first moved in, and she had never forgotten those hurtful remarks. The fact that she wasn’t really an unmarried mother had nothing to do with this woman, and Templar had chosen not to tell her that she was in fact the baby’s aunt and not her mother as everyone assumed.

If she could have found somewhere else as cheap and as convenient for her job she would have moved out long ago. But it was impossible. No one was willing to accept the unnecessary bother of a young baby in their house when they could get just as much money from a single person or a young couple. In fact Templar was surprised that Mrs Marks put up with the occasional noise Keri made with her crying. She had been told about it a couple of times, but how on earth was she supposed to quieten a young baby who was teething, and quite painfully too.

‘Yes, Mrs Marks?’ she asked stiffly.

‘Now don’t take that high and mighty tone with me, young lady,’ snapped the elderly lady, her breathing laboured from walking up the three long flights of stairs. ‘And you no better than you ought to be,’ she grumbled.

Templar held herself proudly erect, refusing to show that she was in any way affected by this woman’s barbs. ‘My morals have nothing to do with you, Mrs Marks,’ she replied coolly. ‘Now did you want something special, or is this just a social call?’ Templar hated letting this woman know she was getting under her skin, but she had had a hard day at work today, and then it had taken her over an hour to get Keri to sleep, and she hardly felt in the mood for pleasantries.

‘There’s no need to get cheeky with me, young lady. I came up here to tell you that Bert and me have been receiving complaints again. It isn’t good enough,’ she added for good measure.

Templar sighed heavily, running a harassed hand through her silky hair.

‘I’m sorry about the noise, Mrs Marks, but Keri’s teething, and I—–’

The landlady shook her head. ‘I’ve heard all your excuses before, and it makes no difference. That child does nothing but cry, and when it comes to receiving complaints from my other tenants then I’m afraid I have to do something about it.’

Templar gasped indignantly. Keri does not cry all the time, she’s a very placid baby. Goodness, you’d cry if you were in pain!’

‘Well, that’s as maybe,’ the woman shifted uncomfortably. ‘But I’m going to have to ask you to leave.’

‘To—–to leave—?’ Templar trailed off. ‘But I—I have nowhere else to go!’

The other woman’s face softened slightly. ‘I’m sorry, love,’ she said more gently. ‘If it was left to me I’d probably let you stay, but my Bert’s adamant about it. He wants your room vacated by the end of the week.’

‘But—’ Templar’s face was pale, her movements slow, ‘where can I go?’

‘Well, I’m sure I don’t know,’ Mrs Marks replied shortly. ‘Can’t that young man of yours help you out?’

She shook her head dazedly. She couldn’t ask Ken for help. He thought she was behaving stupidly anyway, insisting that she put Keri in a home and marry him. Until he had said that she had seriously been considering him as a prospective husband, but how could she marry a man who rejected a defenceless baby? The idea was unthinkable, and even if things did become so desperate that she did have to part with Keri, she certainly wouldn’t marry Ken. ‘No, I—–’ she broke off as Keri began crying, a loud choking sob that pierced the paper-thin walls.

Mrs Marks frowned deeply. ‘You see,’ she said with satisfaction. ‘Not a moment’s peace. Oh, I feel sorry for the poor little mite, but I’d feel even more sorry for her if I didn’t have to listen to that noise all night.’ She turned away from the door. ‘Remember, the end of the week.’

How could she forget! Unthinkingly Templar picked up Keri, cradling her against the thinness of her own body. As if she realised something was very wrong with her aunt, Keri’s sobs ceased instantly and she cuddled into Templar’s warm scented neck, blowing bubbles and chattering tiredly in the baby talk that endeared her to everyone she met. Or at least, almost everyone, Templar thought hardly.

For the next two days Templar spent all of her lunch-hour and part of the evenings searching for new accommodation. But it was hopeless. The ones she could afford wouldn’t accept Keri, and the ones she couldn’t afford didn’t seem to mind the presence of a young baby. It was all so frustrating, and Ken didn’t help either.

‘Put the kid in an orphanage and marry me,’ was all the help he could give her, as Templar had known it would be.

She held on to her temper with difficulty. ‘I refuse point blank to part with Keri, she’s all the family I have left.’

Ken sighed. ‘We could have a family of our own, once we’d settled down, of course.’

‘If you feel that way, why couldn’t we keep Keri as well?’ To keep Keri with her Templar would go to any lengths, even marry this man she didn’t love.

‘I don’t want someone else’s child,’ Ken said coldly, looking with dislike at Keri as she played happily on the floor.

She didn’t bother to answer him. He was at least someone to talk to, a friend, something she was much in need of at the moment. It was surprising how many of the people she had thought were friends had shunned her when they thought Keri was her baby. Only Ken and Mary had remained loyal, Ken because he hoped eventually to wear her down enough to marry him, and Mary because she was a true friend.

She bent and picked Keri up in her arms. ‘Come on, poppet. Time for your bath.’

‘Couldn’t that wait until later?’ complained Ken. ‘I don’t see much of you as it is.’

‘Babies need routine.’

‘So you keep saying, but when do you have time to take care of yourself?’

She laughed lightly. ‘Is that a polite way of saying I look awful? Really, Ken, you aren’t very complimentary!’ Her green eyes twinkled at him teasingly.

Ken flushed uncomfortably. ‘You know very well I didn’t mean anything of the sort. You always look beautiful, and you know it.’

Templar knew she was attractive, as an ex-model she would be stupid not to know that. It wasn’t conceited to know that her long auburn hair shone like autumn leaves, that her wide uptilted eyes, small nose, and wide generous mouth made up a beautiful face, and that her body was perfectly proportioned, if slightly thinner now than it should be. But most of all it was her complete naturalness that finished her beauty, giving her an inner glow that many beautiful women throughout the world paid much money for and never attained.

At the moment her hair was tied back from her face, showing clearly her high cheekbones and slender swan-like neck. Up until a year ago she had been a model, but the unusual times, the long hours of work, and the travelling, as well as caring for Keri, had made it impossible for her to carry on. She had been forced to fall back on the secretarial qualifications she had obtained when she was at school, accepting a job that had little prospects and paid much less money than she had been earning. And she hadn’t been a model long enough for her to have saved much money, and what there had been was slowly wasting away. Almost every week she withdrew a small amount of her savings, and each week the amount seemed to be larger than the last.

Luckily Templar knew how to care for her hair expertly so that the loss of visits to the hair salon had made no difference to her long straight tresses, and her skin was smooth enough not to require any cosmetics whatsoever. Occasionally she applied mascara and a light lipstick, but as the money became more and more scarce, these occasions became almost never.

‘Do you want to help me bath her?’ she asked as she gathered the baby’s nightclothes together.

‘No, thanks.’ Ken picked up the newspaper, burying his nose in its depths.

She didn’t attempt to argue with him, well aware that Keri welcomed his company no more than he did hers. With the perception of the very young, Keri soon learnt who liked her and who didn’t.

This was the time of day Templar enjoyed the most, with Keri splashing about in the water with her toys, and usually wetting the bathroom more than she did herself. Templar looked down at the copper curls with love. It was strange really how Keri had inherited none of Tiffany’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty, but all of her aunt’s colouring and sense of fun.

She looked up now and dimpled at her aunt. ‘M—Ma—Ma—–’ she gurgled happily

‘Mama, Mama,’ encouraged Templar, come on, darling, say it. Mama, Mama.’

‘Ma—Ma,’ her little tongue wrestled with the word, still not quite managing to say the word properly and losing interest as she began gurgling again.

‘You’re a monkey,’ Templar laughed. ‘A monkey,’ she repeated as the little girl looked up interestedly.

Keri was rosy-cheeked and fresh-smelling when they re-entered the room, her tiny fingers clutching on to Templar’s hair. She kissed the baby gently on the cheek before laying her down in her cot. ‘Now off to sleep with you,’ she grinned down at the baby. ‘Keri be a good girl.’

‘That’d make a change,’ mumbled Ken, emerging from behind the newspaper.

‘She’s a very good baby,’ Templar returned calmly. ‘You don’t like children, that’s all.’

‘Oh, but I do. At least, I’ll like my own. I just resent the fact that Keri has no real claim on you. You just took over the responsibility of her after your sister died. I said you were stupid then, and I think you’re even more so now. That child is draining you physically as well as financially. You could have been one of the best paid models in the world by now, but instead you—–’

‘Chose to give Keri all the love she needs rather than fob her off with a nanny or put her into a home,’ she cut in. ‘We’ve had this argument many times before, and it gets us nowhere. I love Keri, and I intend keeping her.’

‘Okay, okay, on your own head be it. What I can’t understand is why you don’t know who her father is. Surely Tiffany could have told you?’

‘She refused to. She didn’t want anything from him, she couldn’t possibly have known she was going to die and so never need him again.’ A sob caught in her throat as she remembered her young sister, so full of life and not a care in the world. Until this unwanted pregnancy. But at least Tiffany had loved Keri’s father, of that she was certain. But as far as she knew he hadn’t wanted Tiffany once he found out about the baby. And so at the great age of nineteen her sister had departed this world with hardly a ripple, and her errant boy-friend hadn’t so much as made one enquiry about her.

‘Keri is my child,’ she insisted. ‘At least, in every way it’s possible for her to be without my actually bearing her. I could no more give her up than I could—than I could stop living!’

Templar took Keri with her to visit Mary the next day. It was her half day and she usually tried to see her friend on these occasions. She could have better spent this time searching for somewhere new to live, but she made it a habit to always spend this time with Keri. Goodness knows she spent little enough time with her as it was.

Mary was, as usual, pleased to see her. With two little girls and a third baby on the way and only a two-bedroomed flat, Mary and her husband were in just as much difficulty as Templar was. It gave them a mutual grievance. Although there wasn’t much difference in their ages, Mary was worn down with the weight of her family problems, and Templar dreaded getting into the same predicament.

‘Hello, poppet,’ Mary tickled Keri under the chin. ‘My, she’s getting bonny!’ She looked closely at her friend. ‘But you don’t look too good. What’s happened?’ she asked perceptively.

Templar explained about Mrs Marks’ ultimatum and her difficulty in finding somewhere else to live.

‘Oh, dear,’ sighed Mary worriedly. ‘You could always come here for a few days if you get really stuck for a place,’ she offered.

Templar knew this was a generous act on the part of her friend, but not one she could possibly accept. ‘No, I’ll work something out, thank you, Mary. You can guess what Ken suggested,’ she added dryly.

‘Oh, Ken!’ Mary dismissed him in disgust. ‘He’s no help at all.’

Templar laughed. ‘Never mind that for now. I’ve brought some apples, so we can make a pie for tea. You make the pastry and I’ll prepare the apples. Deal?’

‘Deal. Leave Keri with Samantha, they can play together.’

It was nice to forget their troubles for a little while, laughing like two schoolgirls as they both got flour in their hair. ‘We’re worse than the children,’ giggled Templar as she tried to get the flour out of her hair and off the tip of her nose.

‘You aren’t much more than a child yourself,’ teased Mary. ‘What are you? Twenty-one, twenty-two?’

‘Twenty-one,’ she confirmed. ‘A year older than Tiffany would have been. I often wonder what it would have been like if she’d lived. I could have worked and supported them both. I could, you know. My career was just expanding nicely. It seems so cruel that she had to die. She hadn’t even begun to live, she was just a child.’

‘And you’ve never heard from Keri’s father?’ put in Mary gently.

Templar shook her head. ‘It’s as if he never existed,’ she laughed bitterly. ‘But I have her to prove that he did. I think he must be rather a handsome man if Keri’s looks are anything to go by. Oh, I know she has my colouring, but her features are nothing like mine, or Tiffany’s for that matter. And her complexion is much darker than either of us.’

‘Did you ever look through those letters of Tiffany’? You know, the ones in that carved box.’

She shook her head. ‘No, I couldn’t. It would be like violating Tiffany’s privacy. Those letters were addressed to her, and it would be wrong of me to read them.’

‘But you don’t actually have to read them,’ Mary pointed out. ‘Just look at the signatures and addresses. Surely you could do that without reading them?’

‘I suppose so,’ Templar agreed reluctantly. ‘But I just don’t think I can.’

‘Of course you can,’ her friend insisted impatiently. ‘This isn’t the time to worry about a little thing like privacy. Or pride either, for that matter.’

Templar knew she was right. Tiffany had kept a box of letters, but Templar had never been able to force herself to look at them, although she felt sure Keri’s father’s name would be in there somewhere.

Once she had settled Keri down for the night she took the box out of the cupboard, staring fixedly at it for several minutes before opening its wooden lid. She hesitated for a moment more, unwilling to delve into secrets that were perhaps better left alone.

Taking a deep breath, she began flicking through the letters, only glancing fleetingly at the signature on each and ignoring their other contents. It didn’t take all that long to find the one she thought might be helpful. Never a secretive girl, Tiffany had spoken freely about her boy-friends, and so Templar knew most of the names on the letters. Only one was unknown to her, and she could only assume this was Keri’s father. It had been unlike Tiffany not to tell her sister everything, that was why it had been all the more surprising that she wouldn’t reveal the name of her lover.

Templar put the other letters back in the box, putting off the moment when she would actually have to read the letter. It just didn’t seem right to read someone else’s personal letters. Finally, she couldn’t put it off any longer, slowly reading the slightly faded words. There were faint smudges on the two pages of the letter, as if someone had been crying as they read them, which Templar could well imagine was true after reading their contents. Alex Marcose had said quite plainly that he wouldn’t be seeing Tiffany any more. No mention was made of the baby, but the date at the top of the letter fitted in with the time Tiffany must have found out about her pregnancy, so Templar imagined the baby must have been the reason he had broken off the relationship. Well, she was afraid that things like babies had a way of making their presence felt. And Mr Alex Marcose was about to be informed of his daughter’s existence.

She posted the letter to the London address the next day, informing Mr Marcose that she had something of import to tell him. But this didn’t stop her from searching for accommodation. Mr Marcose might not still live at that address, and even if he did, her name might be enough to put him off. The address was in one of the better parts of town, and people like that had a way of forgetting their responsibilities. He might even have forgotten Tiffany’s existence.

It was three days since Templar had posted the letter, and she had received no reply, although she was sure it must have reached its destination by now. And she still hadn’t found anywhere to live! The situation was becoming desperate now, and she was hardly sleeping at night, and worrying incessantly by day. And Keri wasn’t helping either, being particularly fretful the past few days, sensitive to her aunt’s worry.

She went in to her for the third time in an hour, soon quietening her and going back to her magazine. She tried to concentrate on the article she was reading, but the words seemed to make no sense, and putting the magazine down on the floor she curled her legs up underneath her and resting her head back on the chair, she fell asleep.

She was woken up by the knock on the door, pushing back her untidy hair and smoothing down her creased denims. If it was Mrs Marks again, she’d—–

The knock sounded again. ‘Miss Newman! Miss Newman! I have a visitor for you.’

A visitor! Oh, God! Who on earth could it be? It must be someone Mrs Marks didn’t know or she wouldn’t have accompanied them up the stairs. Templar glanced apprehensively at the half-closed bedroom door, but couldn’t hear any movement from Keri. Thank goodness for that; she didn’t think she could stand for her to wake up again.

She opened the door, her eyes opening wide with shock as they encountered the tall alien-looking man standing arrogantly at Mrs Marks’ side. Her landlady looked quite overwhelmed, and Templar wasn’t surprised. The man was looking down his haughty nose at both of them, his suit fitting him as if it had been tailored on him, and it probably had been.

‘You—er—–’ Templar hesitated. ‘You can go now, Mrs Marks,’ she said firmly, watching the landlady as she slowly began to descend the stairs, muttering to herself as she went. Templar looked at the man again, only to find herself the victim of a contemptuous perusal, his blue-grey eyes mentally noting each feature as if for future reference. ‘Would you like to come in?’ she asked nervously.

‘You are very trusting, Miss Newman,’ his accent was faintly clipped, as if English wasn’t his native tongue. ‘Considering you do not know who I am.’ He held himself erect. ‘My name is Leondro Marcose.’

‘Oh, but—–’

He held up a hand for silence. ‘Before you say any more, Miss Newman, I think you should know that my brother Alex is dead.’ He said the words with no show of emotion.

Templar paled. This wasn’t what she had been expecting at all. How could he cold-heartedly stand there and tell her such a thing! Her only chance of a future for Keri now in ruins. Tears filled her emerald green eyes and threatened to overspill. She was going to lose Keri, and there wasn’t a thing she could do about it.

This stranger was still staring at her as if he were dissecting her, and even in her distress Templar could see he was devastatingly attractive. And Alex, Keri’s father, had been his brother. If there had been any resemblance between the two brothers then Tiffany couldn’t be blamed for her attraction. Templar still held the door open for him to enter, and without waiting for her to repeat the invitation he entered the room, looking about him without concealing his distaste.

She saw the shabby room through his eyes and her resentment towards him grew. Who was he to look down his nose at her when she had been struggling for the past year to support his brother’s daughter?—maybe not in the way he would have done, but one thing Keri had never gone short of was love. ‘I see,’ she said tightly. ‘In that case I’m afraid you’ve had a wasted journey. You can’t possibly help me.’

His eyebrows rose arrogantly at her dismissive tone. ‘Please allow me to be the judge of that, Miss Newman. Your letter sounded urgent, otherwise I would not have come here at all. You say I cannot help you. What makes you think my brother could have done more than I?’ His eyes flickered mercilessly over her nervous movements. ‘Will you not sit down, so that I may also?’

‘Oh! Oh, I’m sorry.’ She sat down in the chair she had recently vacated.

‘So,’ he sat opposite her. ‘Would you mind telling me what it was only my brother could help you with?’ His eyes narrowed to two icy slits. ‘Or is it so private you cannot tell me about it?’

Templar’s eyes flashed angrily at his condescending tone. ‘You aren’t being very polite, Mr Marcose.’

‘Am I not?’ he asked tautly. ‘But then you are being particularly obstructive. You sent an urgent letter to my brother and when I come in his stead you refuse to tell me what the matter was you wanted to discuss with him.’ He stood up in one fluid movement, a ripple of pure ripcord muscle the only sign of effort. ‘It seems you are right, and I have had a wasted journey.’

Templar stood up to aid his departure, but was prevented from doing so by an ear-piercing scream from Keri. Without waiting to answer his look of astonishment she dashed into the bedroom, her only thought to quieten her before she disturbed the whole household. Keri raised tear-wet cheeks and Templar couldn’t resist her endearing little face. ‘There, darling,’ she crooned softly. ‘It’s all right, my baby.’

Leondro Marcose stood transfixed in the doorway, his darkly handsome face a shuttered mask. ‘So,’ he said harshly, the voice that she had thought attractive grating with suppressed violence. ‘You have a child.’

‘As you can see.’ Templar still smiled reassuringly at Keri.

Keri’s big green eyes fixed themselves on the tall dark man’s face, and she chuckled delightedly. ‘Mama,’ she chortled. ‘Mama.’

To Templar it was a triumph, but it only seemed to incense her visitor more, if that were possible. Ignoring his censorious look, she smiled happily at Keri. ‘Aren’t you clever, darling. Now are you going to go back to sleep? Mama has a visitor, and you’re being very naughty.’

‘Please do not hurry yourself because of me.’ The man’s voice was like a rapier, cutting all down before him, and at the moment it was her. ‘If this is the reason you wanted my brother’s help, then you are right, I can be of no service to you. You have formed your own destiny, and to involve other people in your troubles is not something I appreciate.’

‘Really, Mr Marcose?’ she asked tartly, taking Keri over to this tall imperious stranger and placing her in front of him. He had little choice but to take the squirming bundle into his strong arms, staring at her intently.

Templar waited with bated breath as Keri played with the buttons on the front of his snowy white shirt, her four tiny white teeth showing between ruby-red lips. Leondro Marcose looked from Keri to Templar and back again, his face pale.

‘This child,’ his voice was husky and curiously uncertain. ‘There is no doubt that you are the child’s mother. And the father—–’ he stopped. ‘The father was my brother, was he not?’

She nodded. ‘Yes, he was. But I—–’

‘Please!’ he said curtly, carrying Keri into the other room where he sat down abruptly in one of the armchairs. Keri looked at him with gleeful eyes, enjoying this unexpected treat. Men didn’t very often come into her orbit, except Ken of course, and as their dislike was mutual he didn’t count. As Leondro Marcose looked at her his face softened, the harsh lines beside his firm mouth dissipating. ‘And what is your name, little one?’

‘Her name is Keri,’ put in Templar. ‘And she’s ten months old.’ She still hadn’t told him that Keri wasn’t her child, but somehow now didn’t seem to be the right moment.

‘I see.’ He looked at her over Keri’s copper curls. ‘And of what assistance can I be to you?’

She looked taken aback. ‘Why, none,’ she said in a surprised voice. ‘It was your brother I wanted to see, and as he’s—dead,’ the word choked in her throat. Poor Keri, both parents dead so young. ‘As he’s dead, I’ll have to solve my problem on my own.’

‘I disagree. Must I remind you that Keri is my niece?’

Templar was dumbstruck. It was an aspect she hadn’t thought of. She shook her head. ‘You only have my word for that. I couldn’t swear Alex was her father.’

‘The devil you can’t!’ he rasped, and Keri’s face puckered tearfully at the harshness of his voice. ‘It is all right, little one.’ He placed her on the floor and stood up to pace the room, taking out a long cigar and a gold lighter. ‘I have your permission to smoke?’ he asked grimly, igniting the lighter at the nod of her head. He didn’t speak again for several long seconds. ‘So you do not know if my brother is your baby’s father, or if she belongs to one of your other lovers,’ he addressed her coolly. ‘Well, let me put your mind at rest. Keri is Alexis’ child, of that there can be no doubt. She is very like him to look at. Have you not noticed the resemblance? Or have you forgotten how my brother looked in the sea of faces that were no doubt your lovers?’

Templar blanched under his insults. ‘And what do you intend doing, Mr Marcose? Paying me off?’

His mouth twisted tauntingly. ‘That is the one thing I do not intend doing, Miss Newman. I’m sure that you expected as much from Alex, but you will find I am made of much sterner stuff than my brother was. No, Keri is my niece and I intend taking her into my care. If I gave you money you would no doubt spend it on things other than the infant, and although I realise you have a certain amount of affection for the child, I am sure you will appreciate that I can give her more than you will ever be able to. No matter how many men you take into your bed.’

She hit out at him instinctively, her only thought to hurt him as he was verbally hurting her. Her finger marks stood out livid against his dark skin and she moved away from him in horror, snatching the frightened Keri off the floor and hugging her tightly against her. The two of them looked at him with apprehensive eyes, Templar noting a strange expression cross his face, but it passed so fleetingly she didn’t have time to analyse it. ‘I do not have a “certain amount of affection” for Keri,’ she said in a low controlled voice. ‘I love her. And no—no stranger is going to take her away from me. Oh, I know you can give her more than I can, you’re obviously wealthy enough to, but I love her. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?’

‘Not a great deal,’ he replied coldly. ‘And as you know I have money I do not think there was any need for that remark about my being wealthy. Alexis must have told you it was so and you obviously thought it was time to play your lead card. As a small baby Keri may not have made the impact that she has now, especially as she has your hair and eyes. But then most babies look alike. But now, now that her features are becoming distinctly like my brother’s you decide the time is right to make us aware of her existence. What is the matter, Miss Newman? Are you tired of caring for a young baby? Do you long to go back to the life you no doubt led before my young brother was gullible enough to fall for your undoubted charms?’

She shook her head. This just couldn’t be happening to her! Oh, she realised the remark she had made about being unsure of Keri’s parentage had sparked off this cold chilling anger, but if he had only given her chance she could have explained that her uncertainty was due to the fact that Keri was not her child. Now it had gone too far. If she told him the truth now he would probably take Keri away from her altogether, and then she might never see her again. ‘Keri is my life now,’ she said simply. ‘And I won’t let you take her from me.’

‘You would not be able to stop me if that were my intention. If none of your—admirers would be willing to come forward I am sure I could find a couple of men who would give evidence against you. I only have to cast doubts on your ability to be a proper mother and Keri will be given into my care. Do you want that?’

‘You think money can buy everything, don’t you, Mr Marcose?’ she said brokenly.

‘Please, call me Leon, anything else would be verging on the ridiculous in the circumstances. And I shall call you—–?’ he paused expectantly.

‘Templar,’ she replied miserably.

‘Unusual,’ came his comment. ‘And no, I know money cannot buy everything. Most things, but not everything. But in this case it will get me what I want.’

‘And what is that?’ Templar asked dully, cradling the now sleepy Keri against her.

‘I wish to make a future for Keri. I cannot do that by taking her into my house as my brother’s child. Everyone will know her for what she is, and that I do not want. She is a beautiful child and deserves to have the sort of background I would wish for her. So I propose to marry her mother and so pass Keri off as my own child.’


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